Many organizations are facing a ‘leadership gap’ created by the retirement of older boomer-generation executives coupled with a dearth of experienced managers to take their place. While there may be an abundance of relatively new and talented employees eager to rise, too few have the depth of experience needed to successfully step into management and leadership roles. How can a fast track to leadership be created that takes the place of years of seasoning?
Unfortunately, leadership development programs often fall short of delivering promised results, despite the best of intentions. There are several key ingredients to making these programs work to jump start careers.
What it takes to be a successful leader in one organization may be very different than what it takes in another. The best programs begin with a clear-eyed assessment of what values, beliefs, qualities and behaviors form the foundation of the organizational culture and what that means regarding the characteristics of successful leaders.
One company we know had a strong ‘failure is not an option’ culture due to the highly secure nature of their work, while another found making mistakes a vital part of generating innovation. This value also related to the strategies each had, with the first focused on maintaining strong customer satisfaction and the second on growing new product lines.
The leadership development programs created for them were both built around broad skills such as decision making, influencing others, communication, etc. but they also differed in ways that reflected the differences in the two cultures.
We know that adults generally retain just 10-15% of what they learn as passive recipients of information but that figure jumps to 65-70% when the learning takes place through active participation. Experiential learning involves six steps:
When this type of active learning is incorporated into leadership development programs through simulations or real projects, the result is enduring learning that translates into behavior.
Making sure that what is learned in the classroom will actually translate into the workplace is always a challenge. The real day-to-day seldom affords the singularly focused straightforward situations addressed in training. Providing opportunities to apply new skills while on the firing line requires that trainees’ managers must be part of the equation. Not only must there be appropriate opportunities to use skills on the job, managers must be engaged in the content and outcomes of the program and be able to provide skillful coaching and feedback as trainees attempt to apply what is being learned. New skills need to be reinforced by being incorporated into ongoing performance management.
The most successful programs sequence training modules with time in between for participants to try out new skills and behaviors and get developmental, not evaluative, feedback regarding their execution.
Most people are not very good at observing their own behavior, and perhaps even less good at reflecting on and changing it. A coach, ideally a person different from a boss, can help emerging leaders reflect on what they are experiencing both during training and in the workplace. Coaches can help to identify sticking points and skills that are not coming naturally, can help work through difficult or challenging situations and offer suggestions for new things to try. Providing a coach to new and aspiring leaders concurrently with their participation in development programs can make a tremendous difference in ensuring the investment pays off.
When new hires are, from the beginning, afforded the opportunity to learn the skills that are truly needed to grow into leadership roles in this organization, they can see a career path and the company will have the foundation of good succession planning. Well designed and delivered leadership programs are of tremendous value to organizations and to emerging leaders.
What has been your organization’s experience with leadership training programs? Please leave your comments below.